GenNext kid shows how it is done in the old masters’ style

karthikkrishnaswamy Posted: Nov 16, 2012 at 2154 hrs
Ahemdabad For the third time on Friday, Cheteshwar Pujara reached a milestone with a single. When he reached the bowler’s end this time, he pulled off his helmet with a little extra urgency. Where he had acknowledged the hundred and the 150 with a smile, a look to the sky and a halfway-raised bat, he marked the 200 by swinging his bat through an arc somewhat similar to a bottom-handed shovel over mid-off’s head. 

Pujara had been at the crease for close to nine and a half hours then, and hadn’t played a single bottom-handed shovel over anyone’s head. He might be 24, and part of a generation that has mastered that kind of shot, but bats like someone from another era. 

Not that he is dull to watch; far from it. Pujara can attack when he needs to, as he did at the start of his innings on day one, using his feet magnificently to go forward and back to Graeme Swann and drive and cut against the turn to ensure that he didn’t let the off-spinner get on top of him. 

But on day two, with the hard work done and the field spread out, Pujara’s task was to stay at the wicket, enlarge India’s total and tire the England bowlers and fielders as much as possible. He ticked all those boxes, and stayed unbeaten on 206 when India declared at 521 for 8.

When Pujara had to defend, he defended. When the bad balls came, he put them away. 

There was no extravagance, whether in shot selection — he didn’t score a single boundary through the off side after reaching his hundred — or in flourishes of style. Some of his shots were very easy on the eye — such as a whippy straight drive off Swann just after reaching his hundred — while some, while effective, were ungainly. When the spinners bowled short, for instance, he swung his body through the pull in a manner reminiscent of grainy black and white footage from the 40s. 

At the crease, in short, Pujara was thoroughly unselfconscious — about how he looked, or how his opponents or the crowd reacted to him. It’s hard to say this about anyone else from the IPL generation. He never lost focus, but didn’t look like he needed to work particularly hard to maintain it.     

“I’ve done the same thing in domestic cricket,” he said at the end of the day’s play. “I never like to get out. There’s always a price on my wicket. Even after scoring a double hundred I never wanted to give away my wicket. That’s the reason why I am able to score big runs.”

He has done that all his life. Eleven years ago, Pujara scored an unbeaten 306 for Saurashtra’s under-14s against Baroda. In the 2008-09 season, in the span of a single month, he scored two triple hundreds for his state’s under-22 side and another for the senior side in the Ranji Trophy. Had MS Dhoni not declared, and had his teammates stayed at the crease with him, Pujara might well have reached that landmark here.   

When he made his maiden Test century, against New Zealand in August, Pujara carried on till 159, before an uncharacteristic lofted shot brought about his dismissal. This time, he reserved his only act of over-exuberance with the bat for celebrating his double century. Almost bewildered by his own reaction, he acknowledged the cheers of his fellow Gujaratis in the crowd and put his helmet back on with a sheepish grin.